LEWISTON — To promote unity, healing and to offer thanks to first responders who kept the city safe after three recent major downtown fires, a community gathering will be held Monday afternoon in Kennedy Park.
The event is called Lewiston Strong — Fire Response: Lewiston Unites.
It will be held from 5 to 6 p.m., rain or shine. It is being organized by Ward 5 City Councilor Craig Saddlemire and Community Concepts.
The program will offer prayers led by interfaith religious leaders, and give people a chance to reflect on what happened and thank first responders. There will be several speakers, including Lewiston Mayor Bob Macdonald and residents who lost their homes.
Involved in the planning is Saddlemire, Shanna Rogers of Community Concepts, downtown tenants, faith groups, police and fire department officials, nonprofit organizations and the media.
Rogers said the gathering is needed. She spent last weekend donating time and materials to help those who lost their homes in the fires, but didn't feel it was enough, she said.
The goal, Saddlemire said, is to build confidence and connections downtown.
Melissa Dunn of the Neighborhood Housing League agreed, adding that people are looking for a way to thank firefighters and police personally. The event will also include healing through art, songs and a silent "cardboard testimonial."
Dottie Perham-Whittier, the city's community relations coordinator, said that a cardboard testimonial consists of people holding cardboard signs that have a message of how they were hurt on one side and how they were helped on the other. A sign could read, “'I've lost my home.' They flip it over and it says, 'My neighbors brought me food.' It's very powerful,” she said.
Richard White, a downtown tenant and parent, said he's looking forward to a May 22 forum. He hopes to see tenants working with landlords to improve and clean the downtown neighborhoods.
“Yes, we have a low-income neighborhood, but we don't need to look like a low-income neighborhood,” White said Tuesday. “I'd like to see landlords and tenants working together, not only cleaning up neighborhoods but instilling pride in our city.”
At the May 22 forum, ideas will be exchanged for possible solutions to the downtown fires and need for change.